Smart growth expert says bus rapid transit fits new development trends

FORT COLLINS – Cities are developing differently, and bus rapid transit systems fit into these new development patterns, said Roger Millar, vice president of Smart Growth America, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates for planned growth.

Millar addressed a symposium this week “Mason & Our Housing Future,” sponsored by the Fort Collins Board of Realtors. The event focused on the impacts the Mason Street Corridor project will have on housing in the city.

Households are changing with the times, Millar said, both in terms of who is occupying the homes and what those people want out of a home and its surrounding amenities.

Millenials are coming of age, getting jobs and finding their first homes, meaning that real estate and development professionals should acquaint themselves with these new members of the workforce and find out how to serve them. On the other end of the spectrum, increasing numbers of baby boomers are reaching retirement age and may be searching for housing options that fit their non-working lifestyles.

Both millenials and retirement-age homeowners find alternative modes like bus rapid transit attractive, Millar said. Millenials are more inclined to care about the environmental impacts of driving, and as people age, they are less likely to have the ability to drive safely.

The way people look for a place to settle down is also changing, Millar said. In the past, when people graduated college, they found a job that worked for them and hoped it was in a city they liked, Millar said.

Today, college graduates choose a city they like and try to find a job there, according to Millar. Companies are taking notice of this and moving to where the talent is, rather than trying to get talent to go to them. Amenities like good public transportation can help a city stand out as a choice for young professionals, which can ultimately attract economic development prospects if a large business chooses to move to where those professionals are, Millar said.

In a similar trend, companies are moving their facilities from the outskirts of cities to downtowns, because that is where workers want to be, Millar said. Fort Collins recently experienced this when Woodward decided to move its global headquarters from 1000 W. Drake Road to the intersection of Lemay and Lincoln avenues, much closer to Old Town Fort Collins than its previous location.

These developments can help municipalities through increased sales and property tax, Millar said. Municipal budgets across the country are pinched, Millar said, and the impacts of bus rapid transit can spread to them through both revenue increases and expense reduction.

Bus rapid transit usually lends itself to compact development instead of urban sprawl, Millar said. The cost of compact development and urban infill for municipalities is lower than the costs of other kinds of development, he said, because it means smaller infrastructure expenditures.

“Denser development can carry an entire city financially,” Millar said.

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